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American Democracy and the Illusion of Choice

Here we are again. 

In the midst of national crisis, there is nothing more the American public are pleading for than a president that is reflective of progression. In the time leading up to this year’s election, the ballot seemed to be filled with diversity and hope, yet we’ve reached an edge that rings all too familiar. 

From initial advocacy for bright-eyed candidates such as Andrew Yang, Beto O’Rourke, Tulsi Gabbard, Cory Booker, and fallen-once-more Bernie Sanders, we are left with merely candidates that don’t even resemble the progressive movement. After numerous debates and opportunities for Progressive candidates to show their brilliance, we are faced with the grey pits of our anticipation: the plights of leadership that will come from either President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

With the presidential general election approaching in less than a week, these are the two names that will be prominent on the ballot, as though two black bulges rising out of the paper. I imagine the question to rise in the back of everyone’s throat and remain stuck between their teeth: How did we get here? Far too often, we reach this same end, granting the presidency to men who cannot show us the future, but merely reiterate what history has already shown us: American democracy refuses to escape the influence of old white men.

It is this same partisanship that was warned against by the same men responsible for the fallibility in the founding of this nation: in his Farewell Address, George Washington urged the nation to deter from “hyper-partisanship,” and other members of the Founding Fathers remained persistent in warning against a nation built on political infighting.

Despite their requests, America has developed an egregious and seemingly irreversible two-party system. In 2016, less than 6 percent of American voters opted from voting for either Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump. The choice to vote third-party has been immensely stigmatized in this upcoming  election with the internet trends #SettleforBiden and #BlueNoMatterWho rising to prominence on social media.

There is harm in convincing voters to stay within the typical realm of red or blue this voting season because it not only discourages people from voting for their ideal candidate, but it also imagines them as the problem with the state for actively choosing to not support candidates they do not deem capable to lead America. Regardless of promising figures such as Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker appearing on the ballot for the Green Party, there is an elevated push to vote for the same men we condemned at the beginning of the campaign season.

This need to run parallel to the status quo is a dangerous one, and one that unintentionally absolves our democracy as it is of any guilt and faults the individual voter for using their vote as they see fit.

It is nearly as though people have chosen to wash their eyes of Tara Reade’s allegations against Biden and the countless other women who have come forth and attested to the uncomfortable atmosphere they have felt while being around him. It is as though people have forgotten of the mass deportations executed under the Obama administration. It is as though people are neglecting that in 2002, Biden voted in favor of using force in Iraq. Yet, exactly on time, we champion him as the “better choice,” without questioning who reaps the benefits of his election, if it is granted to him.

There is a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King that reads: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not… the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” and I nearly stumble when reading it in the context of this election.

We acknowledge bigotry on Trump like his day coat, yet we neglect that far too often, we allow men who wear imperialism and the armor of order over humanity to triumph. When we allow ourselves to fall back into the “lesser of two evils” mentality, we forget what we are striving for. The nation is in danger of stagnation and peril regardless of which direction we vote in. On both sides, we are staring into the eyes of men with moderate policy that does not reflect the ideals we sought to take beyond this election. 

Elections in America should not have to be caught in a binary system. Let us take this experience at hand and realize the fallibility in the misconstrued concepts it has forced us to adapt. We know this feeling all too well, of being close to achieving true democracy yet remaining confined by a system that was not meant to permit progress.

The hardest pill to swallow is remembering our hands sweating over ballots in the primaries, imagining American democracy as a gem, thinking this is the year we will get it right. We didn’t. This does not have to mean the end, though. Take this moment and know that American democracy should be more than the illusion of choice. Our votes should matter. Let it be through this one that we learn to no longer leave it with the men who perpetuate our demise.

Photo: Craig Allen via Flickr

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